Thursday, May 30, 2013

Must We Misrepresent Facts?



After a long sabbatical from my blog, I was finally inspired to write a few paragraphs, when I accidentally stumbled upon a piece published in "Tibetan Political Review". The piece was titled "Must we love the party". I will speak about the piece in subsequent paragraphs, but let me share with you the general sense of the experience I received when I visited this website.

The last time I kept an eye on this website was during and after the Kalon Tripa elections of 2011. Since then, a lot of pieces are published on the website. However, the tone of the website is pretty much the same as that of a partisan website with its birth during the election period as a defacto election campaign website. I was surprised at the persistence of this website in accumulating and fabricating an aura, where the leadership of Sikyong Lobsang Sangay, pre and post elections, was represented much like the usual republican rhetoric about Obama. This website along with some other pseudo intellectuals in our society, have truly decided to close their eyes to the bigger picture of our struggle. They seem to leave no stone unturned in twisting and re-twisting statements and events pertaining to the Tibetan politics, with an unrelenting goal of simply playing political football.

I would deconstruct this one piece "Must we love the party" published on "Tibetan Political Review', to illustrate my point. Further illustrations might follow in future ;).

 The piece, in brief, grieves over the great concessions we have made in general under "The Middle Way Policy", and points out a recent statement by the Sikyong, which seemingly to the author of this piece, provides more concessions to China.

 I would not be debating the middle way policy here, but I would be focusing on how statements by the Sikyong are not only misrepresented but also projected in a completely different way. Of course one would not see this if one simply reads either this piece or the piece in question. Kindly see the video of the statement here.

( If you haven't seen the video or read the Middle way policy (here), please keep your opinions to yourself about the issue.)

Alright, I will begin by bringing to your attention the complete statement by the Sikyong and the misquoted statement in the piece we are discussing.

The actual statement by the Sikyong is below. (Again kindly watch the video for detailed context here.)

"If the Chinese government implements their own laws, we could take that as genuine autonomy, we don't challenge or ask for the overthrow of the communist party, We don't question or challenge the present structure of the ruling party."

Following is the misquoted statement in the piece "Must we love the party".

"We don't challenge, or ask for, an overthrow of the Communist Party. We don't question or challenge the present structure of the ruling party."

This is followed with further explaination,

This statement by the popularly-elected head of the exile Tibetan government contradicts two of the fundamental principles that his administration stands for – the Middle Way policy and democracy.
The basic premise of the Middle Way policy is neither to seek separation from China ‘nor accept the present conditions of Tibet under the People’s Republic of China’. Rather it is to seek ‘genuine autonomy’ under the PRC’s constitution.

First of all, if you look at the actual statement by the Sikyong and the purported statement in "Must we love the party". There is an omission of a significant piece of information that completely wrecks the argument that Sikyong's statement contradicts the Middle Way policy. And this ommited piece of sentence is shown below.

"If the Chinese government implements their own laws,"

One of the fundamental premises of the Middle Way policy, If I may say so, is the recognition of the fact that the Chinese constitution in itself provides certain rights for minorities, which if implemented sincerely in Tibet, would lead to genuine autonomy. Which obviously, the author also recognizes and which the Sikyong also mentions in his statement.

Why then, was the portion of the statement omitted that counters the exact argument by the author. Isn't that misrepresentation of facts?

Moving on to the second argument by the author below

Validating the ‘present structure of the party’ undermines the Tibetan people’s aspiration for freedom and democracy and at the same time it gives absolutely undeserving legitimacy to the murderous one party rule and its dictators. More than anyone else, such sweeping statements would fly in the face of over one hundred self-immolators, overwhelming majority of whom demanded freedom for Tibet and an end to China’s rule over their homeland.


Sikyong's remark "We don't question or challenge the present structure of the ruling party"  does not run counter to the democracy implemented by His Holiness in exile over a number of years. The Middle Way policy is clear in its implied and stated intentions. It simply seeks to find a meaningful solution within the framework of the Chinese Constitution. What the structure of the ruling party is in entire China is a matter of another debate. Within Tibet, a genuine autonomy under China's constitution is what His Holiness and the CTA has been seeking for many years now. This is supported by both Tibetans inside and outside Tibet.

Sikyong has been anything but tacit in his mention of the self-immolators and many other people who have sacrificed their lives in Tibet. In fact in almost every public appearance or statement Sikyong has clearly talked about China's persecution. Even in this video, where the alleged statement is given, he talks about religious persecution and many other human rights violations at lengths. There are several other informative statements by the Sikyong in this video that highlight the persecution of Tibetans in several ways.

So forgive me if I do not buy, what this author is trying to sell in his piece.

Overall the simple formula here has been, follow the Sikyong's statements (which of course, every Tibetan should do), and then find something that you would cling on to and then structure it as though a big sensational and erroneous statement was given. Sensationalism is the fodder for most modern media outlets, but must we follow suit too? Although profitable, sensationalism is mostly inaccurate.

But must someone like me, meticulously watch the video, and present the facts. Can't we all be responsible? There aren't a bunch of many Tibetans writing on Tibet related issues. Can't we all be unified in our struggle and prevent our egos from partaking in such negative activities.

The lesson here is simple, with partisan websites like "Tibetan Political Review" and a vacuum of any fact checking mechanism, there is  a lot of misinformation and misrepresentation of facts. Not everyone watches the videos of the statements or tries to find out the relevant context. For now, what we need is some guided discretion in what we read, particularly on these websites. As my father always says, "take it with a pinch of salt". 

( Although "The Middle Way Policy" has been well publicized over a number of years, yet many either misrepresent what's stated in it or subjectively interpret it. For those who like word play, I suggest reading the official middle way policy document here. Although the author does seem to have read the policy, I would suggest a refresher.)

9 comments:

  1. Reading the whole statement, there does exist a contradiction. It's an argument over whether or not the glass is half full or half empty. Buchung D is saying the part he quotes negates the principles of democracy and the Middle Way Path which necessarily would mean challenging the present leadership and political structure in China and Tibet. You are saying this supposed quote is qualified by the first part of the statement.
    What fools me is your attack of TPR as politically motivated when you yourself is clearly the same from the other side judging from your bio where I find you have campaigned for and worked for the election of our present Sikyong.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The point illustrated in this piece is how "wordplay" and misrepresentation of statements is unhealthy for our politics. My piece does not try to delve into the ultimate merits or demerits of any particular policy. With regard to TPR, again its a journal website, that pretends to be an unbiased medium of information on Tibetan politics. While I am an individual blogger with clear affiliations. It's the intentional lack of declaring any clear partisan affiliation by TPR, that is the issue.

    ReplyDelete
  3. First, I commend your effort in emphasizing a factual approach to an analysis who's goal is to uncover a degree of truth. I have just discovered your blog and I intend to follow it with interest. Now, in the spirit of respecting facts and uncovering truth, I would point out that the scope of a quote's context can always be enlarged and reasonable people can and often do differ on where they draw that line. And in watching the CFR video in its entirety, I am forced to conclude that the Sikyong said those words and was therefore accurately quoted. In fact, if we continue this exercise in widening the context, we will find much more concrete and explicit evidence to support the central thesis of Bhuchung D. Sonam's article. But first, let's recall and affirm that HH Dalai Lama's message on the "Middle-Way Approach" identifies as an "Important Component" the qualification that "This autonomy should be governed by the popularly-elected legislature and executive through a democratic process and should have an independent judicial system" (http://www.dalailama.com/messages/middle-way-approach). Any contradiction of this principle would be dismally noteworthy indeed. And as you point out, the Sikyong is explicitly charged with contradicting this fundamental principle of the "Middle Way" policy. On what basis could such a heavy charge be laid? Well, I regret that only a scant four minutes later, the Sikyong states very clearly, "We are not asking that democracy be implemented or be allowed inside Tibet. What we're asking is rights, as per the provisions of the Chinese constitution." And in case there was any doubt remaining, he goes on to reiterate: "So we are not asking for democracy for Tibetans inside Tibet. We are asking for what they have implemented in Hong Kong and Macau, as per the Article 31, Basic Law." It is good that we dig for truth, but it is unfortunate that this is what laid buried.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for your comment Roscoe and for visiting the site. However, if you read the "Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for Tibetan People" you would see that there was no contradiction to what Sikyong said, even if we ignore the mistake of him being misquoted. For example, here's the actual excerpt on Article 31 from the Middle Way policy document, "Moreover article 31 of the constitution provides provision to establish special administrative regions when necessary. This essentially provides that accept foreign relations and national defence,all other affairs are left under the domain of the administration of regional autonomy." That includes the right to elect a regional legislature, independent judiciary etc. The document also refers to article 10,11,19,20 and 43 each in no way contrary to what the Sikyong said during that address. I am glad that you did watch the entirety of the video. I don't see how the Sikyong's comments run contrary to the Middle way policy or damage the principle of democracy, as BDS implicates in his piece. Again, wordplay can only go as far as creating confusion, the essence of the point would always be lost. That's sad for us and for Tibet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rinchen, I appreciate your considered response. In stating that Article 31 "essentially provides that accept [sic] foreign relations and national defence, all other affairs are left under the domain of the administration of regional autonomy", the MW policy document presents a most hopeful interpretation. The actual text of Article 31 (in English) is merely, "The state may establish special administrative regions when necessary. The systems to be instituted in special administrative regions shall be prescribed by law enacted by the National People's Congress in the light of the specific conditions" (http://english.people.com.cn/constitution/constitution.html). In other words, it's whatever Beijing says it is. And while Article 4, which the Sikyong also referenced in the discussion, claims "Regional autonomy is practised in areas where people of minority nationalities live in compact communities; in these areas organs of self-government are established for the exercise of the right of autonomy" (Ibid), neither Article demands anything resembling what you or I would likely consider "genuine autonomy", certainly not with a functioning democratic government. Which is why I find it all the more troubling when the Sikyong states "We are not asking that democracy be implemented or be allowed inside Tibet." I take what the Sikyong says here at face value and I am simply unable to reconcile it in even the slightest with HH Dalai Lama's message that "This autonomy should be governed by the popularly-elected legislature and executive through a democratic process and should have an independent judicial system" (http://www.dalailama.com/messages/middle-way-approach). I will be more than happy to entertain any rational explanation for how these two statements do not directly contradict each other.

      Delete
  5. Roscoe, again the essence of my critique of BDS's piece is the use of "wordplay" to do anything but bring into light the actual facts. As far as citing the chinese constitutional articles, its interpretation and its practice by China itself, His Holiness has clearly stated on more than one occasions the emphasis on "Genuine Autonomy" within the framework of Chinese constitution. There is a reason why "Genuine" is used. Sikyong's responses and statements were clearly along the same lines. In any case, we can go on and on on this. My intention with the critique was putting an emphasis on reporting statements accurately and within the context of facts. And how tools of modern media might be relevant to achieve sensationalism in other areas, but this does not need to be the case within the Tibetan politics. However, idealistic this view may sound. Again, this was an interesting discussion and I appreciate you thoughts.

    ReplyDelete
  6. It's really interesting to see all the debate happening online and I think this kind of discussion should start prevailing in our communities offline as well.

    But anyways, Rinchen la, it is too harsh to blame TPR for being biased and proclaim yourself to be on the clean side - "With regard to TPR, again its a journal website, that pretends to be an unbiased medium of information on Tibetan politics. While I am an individual blogger with clear affiliations. It's the intentional lack of declaring any clear partisan affiliation by TPR, that is the issue."

    If I'm not mistaken, I think that your analysis is also coming from a very biased point of view and to me, 'Must We Misrepresent Facts?' seem to be leaning more towards clarification or defensive writing.

    Maybe that is because of your affiliation with Sikyong la. If I'm not mistaken, you were one of the fore campaigners for Sikyong la during the elections.

    And again, if I'm not mistaken, this is not the first time you are blogging in his defense. In fact, I remember remember reading your posts during the elections in defense of Sikyong la during the elections and attacked those you perceived as his opponent.

    Sorry for analyzing your intention, but just remember that every one is biased even me towards an individual or an idea and those who call themselves unbiased, are more biased!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Ummmmm Rinchen la, I guess I am confused by a few things:

    1) This article you cite is written by Bhuchung D. Sonam (not TPR). I saw it published on Phayul on May 13, and only published on Tibetan Political Review on May 17. Are you also going to attack Phayul? Or what's your REAL problem with TPR?

    If you don't believe me check out http://www.phayul.com/news/article.aspx?id=33440&article=Must+We+love+the+Party%E2%80%A6By+Bhuchung+D+Sonam&t=1&c=4 and http://www.tibetanpoliticalreview.org/articles/mustwelovetheparty

    2) TPR has published many articles supporting the Middle Way and Lobsang Sangay. A recent example I saw is http://www.tibetanpoliticalreview.org/articles/mwaistheworstproposal So again: what's your problem?

    3) A quick Google search shows that TPR has even published YOUR own articles! Check out http://www.tibetanpoliticalreview.org/system/app/pages/search?scope=search-site&q=rinchen+tobgyal Ummm, that's a little embarrassing for your claim that TPR is soooooo biased against poor little you. They published your stuff!

    4) Didn you "forget" to mention that you were the website manager of the Lobsang Sangay campaign website kalontripafortibet.com? Would you call that "misrepresentation" of a relevant fact? You forgot to mention that you were an important player in Lobsang Sangay's election campaign....oops.

    This is your blog and you can have whatever stuff you want -- honest or not. I guess you can post this comment or not depending on whether you have any integrity at all.

    But I'd love to see your response. Cheerios!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I value your opinions and thank you for leaving a comment. The point about who is fair or who’s on whose side is relevant when you compare two similar entities. I am an individual, a believer in middle way and have personal opinions. I am not a journal or nor I claim to be a journalistic form of media, apart from my personal taste on facts and factual reporting. On the other hand TPR is a media organization with a group of people with a focused set of agenda and ideology. There is no issue with whether you follow one school of thought or the other, the important thing is a focus on facts. If you are disseminating information with a lot of ambiguity and misrepresentation of facts, of course someone will challenge you, especially if you are aiming to become a professional journalistic source of information. It is not the existence of TPR that troubles me, but more so the absence of any fact checking mechanism, that puts a balance. Under such circumstances, it’s only individuals like us who can bring the facts in light and possibly shed some light on truth. I hope this answers both of your questions.And Gyaltsen la, don't worry about my integrity, as long as you are civil, your comments will be posted. :)

    ReplyDelete